Has Barak finally managed to destroy the Labour party?

By Anshel Pfeffer, October 29, 2009
Mr Barak is rumoured to have a close relationship with Mr Netanyahu

Mr Barak is rumoured to have a close relationship with Mr Netanyahu

Labour Chair and Defence Minister Ehud Barak added a new title on Monday: Labour parliamentary faction leader. Mr Barak had to assume the position after his last loyal back-bencher announced he was resigning from the post.

MK Daniel Ben-Simon said he was resigning because “Labour has not fulfilled its diplomatic goals and does not belong in the coalition”.

Mr Ben-Simon, who had stood by the leader since the elections, said he would not be voting according to the coalition whip and accused Mr Barak of being “responsible for building in the settler outposts”. Mr Barak had repeatedly promised the outposts would be dismantled but, so far, no orders have been given.

After leading Labour, which dominated Israeli politics for decades, to its most dismal election result ever — 13 Knesset seats — Ehud Barak has now lost the support of the six MKs who were not appointed ministers or deputy ministers.

All the backbenchers have now called for the party to leave the coalition and four of them are actively seeking to replace the chairman or split the party. Two of the ministers, Avishai Braverman and Yitzhak Herzog, are also thought to be estranged from Mr Barak.

“The rebellion is taking place only at a parliamentary level,” explained a Labour branch chairman, “because Barak now controls the party apparatus and, as it is, there is barely any grassroots activity. Who wants to be in Labour today, when the party’s leader is only interested in Labour as a platform for his own aspirations as defence minister?”

Labour, once the centrist-left establishment, has been supplanted by Kadima and Mr Barak’s own positions are virtually indistinguishable from PM Netanyahu’s.

By all accounts, his relationship with Mr Netanyahu is much closer than with his own party colleagues.

Polls last week showed that Labour would now struggle to achieve even seven Knesset seats. The slump is directly connected to Mr Barak’s lack of leadership but, at the same time, he remains the public favourite for defence minister.

Were Labour to leave the coalition, Mr Netanyahu would still have a small majority, but he would be open to political blackmail by the smallest factions and by the right wing.

Mr Netanyahu’s only alternative would then be to invite Kadima, the centrist party he has unsuccessfully tried to divide and marginalise, into his government.

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010